Making Tracks in Music City

Matthew Dolland '10
April 22, 2009
An up close and personal recording session at the Tracking Room.
At a Friday night open mic at the Tin Roof, the strong presence of Berklee students is evident both on the stage and in the crowd.
Gold and platinum line the walls of Warner/Chappell Records.
Faculty members Stephen Webber (middle left) and Pat Pattison (middle right) and students take in a Q & A session at Warner/Chappell Records.
Performer/songwriter Janice Ian is an annual favorite among students.
Back stage at the Grand Ole Opry, students watch Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder perform during a clinic.
Hit songwriter Mike Reid gives a moving performance of his song,"I Can't Make You Love Me," made famous by Bonnie Raitt.
Students watching the action in the control room of the Tracking Room.
Photo by Brandon Lee
Photo by Brandon Lee
Photo by Brandon Lee
Photo by Brandon Lee
Photo by Brandon Lee
Photo by Brandon Lee
Photo by Brandon Lee
Photo by Brandon Lee

How do you land an opportunity to sit down with some of Nashville's most illustrious songwriters, producers, engineers, and session musicians? You might guess it takes about 10 years of hard work and networking, but if you're enrolled at Berklee, all you have to do is join your fellow students for the annual spring break trip to Nashville.

Every spring since 1985, Pat Pattison, professor of liberal arts, has coordinated a Music City trip that many of us students say has been transformational. And the trip has grown every year, both in terms of educational opportunities and attendance. Twenty-four years ago, five students made the trip; last month, the number was capped at 125.

"The students go down there really not knowing what to expect and what they get is people who are passionate about what they do, happy with their work, and are actually doing what the students want to do," said Pattison. For most of us, what begins as an opportunity to investigate Nashville and its opportunities turns into one of the biggest learning experiences of our Berklee careers.

The trip begins with a 22-hour bus ride from Boston to the Comfort Inn Downtown hotel on Nashville's Music Row, where the students stay. Music Row is considered the heart of Nashville's entertainment industry and is home to dozens of publishing houses, music licensing firms, record labels, performing rights societies, and recording studios. It took about five minutes to walk from the hotel to any of the events, most of which were held at Warner Bros. Records, ASCAP, BMI, NSAI, and several studios. Warner Bros. served as our home base for the majority of the time, because it hosted most of the seminars through the week.

Successful writers such as Janis Ian, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Mike Reid, and Marcus Hummon, and session musicians like Brent Mason, John Hobbs, Michael Rhodes, and Eddie Bayers gave presentations. It was impossible not to be inspired.

The seminars were both straightforward and motivational, because we were given a realistic picture of how competitive the business is and how hard you have to work to really be successful. During an alumni panel, Nick Buda '96 put an appealing spin on the future of the music industry. "This is a positive time as far as what is going to happen," he said. The alumni advised us to avoid feeling daunted by the state of the music industry, and instead use it to motivate ourselves to work harder while we are still in school and have an opportunity to educate ourselves and prepare for the challenges ahead.

"Seeing the level of excellence that you have to reach in order to get to where you want to go really motivates the students to come back and really focus themselves," said Pattison. "And so they come back [to Berklee] with new eyes, they come back looking for more and more from the classes. And once you get that kind of hunger in the classroom from three or four students, the entire level of the class goes up."

The trip coincides each year with the annual alumni reception and dinner where students and Nashville-area alumni have the opportunity to network. "The number of alums that were involved in the trip this year just far outstretched anything we've had before, and it goes to show the value of a Berklee education in terms of preparing people to make their way into the industry," Pattison said. "You have a huge alumni population down there . . . about six-hundred strong at least."

Other trip highlights included a visit to the Grand Ole Opry where, after the main show, students were treated to a private clinic by Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder backstage. The last event of the trip gave the students an opportunity to observe a live recording session featuring Delbert McClinton and area session players at the Tracking Room, a studio about a block from the hotel.

Berklee's Nashville trip is an incredible opportunity to be exposed to things that you would otherwise not have access to. Even for those that don't see themselves pursuing songwriting or country music, it's an invaluable experience for anybody pursuing a career in the music industry.

This was Matthew Dolland's second trip to Nashville with Berklee. Special thanks to Brandon Lee '10 for volunteering to be trip photographer. To see more images from this year's Berklee trip to Nashville, go to Brandon Lee's website.